The Day - Dodd's Senate Career Was One of Substance
ven critics have to admit that Sen. Christopher J. Dodd's 30-year tenure in the Senate, the longest of any senator in Connecticut history, was consequential. The Democrat's core belief that government has the responsibility and ability to improve the lives of Americans is reflected in his legislative achievements.
There was wistfulness in Sen. Dodd's farewell address to the Senate last Tuesday, a recognition that the political system on which he built a career and the institution where he served for three decades have changed, and not for the better.
"Our electoral system is a mess," said Sen. Dodd. "Powerful financial interests, free to throw money about with little transparency, have corrupted the basic principles underlying our representative democracy. And, as a result, our political system at the federal level is completely dysfunctional."
Where once newspaper, radio and network journalists rigorously reported on the routine deliberations taking place in Congress, placing them in the greater context, Dodd said, now a "24/7 political media industry seems to favor speculation over analysis and conflict over consensus."
The Senate "is not functioning as it should," Sen. Dodd said, and the trust and civility that once existed among members, making compromise even among ideological opponents possible, has badly eroded.
Detractors will dismiss the senator's observations as the caterwauling of a fallen liberal legislator. But this son of a senator speaks the truth when he says a dysfunctional Senate is detrimental to the national interest.
Sen. Dodd, 66, had a substantive finish to his career. His decision nearly a year ago not to seek re-election liberated him from worries about fundraising or the political implications of his initiatives. He played a major role in the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, overcoming near unanimous Republican opposition. Despite its flaws, the law does prevent insurance companies from dropping or denying coverage and will vastly improve access to health care coverage for many Americans.
Along with Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Sen. Dodd authored the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It provides the means to break up troubled companies deemed too big to fail and creates new rules intended to prevent the abuses that led to the near collapse of the financial markets. Other reforms crack down on abusive mortgage and credit card practices.
Sen. Dodd's greatest achievement is arguably his authorship of the Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, which allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child or sick relative without fear of job loss. He co-authored CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) to assure insurance coverage for children. Sen. Dodd also championed Head Start and other early education efforts.
The senator did not refer in his speech to the hubris that forced him into retirement. It included his impracticable run for president, beginning in 2007, and subsequent move to Iowa, upsetting Connecticut voters. While chairing the powerful Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, he accepted huge donations from the banking industry. Asked whether that behavior contradicted his support for campaign finance reform, Sen. Dodd said he had to play by the rules as they were.
Though cleared of any ethical violation, his acceptance of VIP treatment from Countrywide and his amendment allowing bailed-out AIG executives to receive their big bonuses (the White House urged him do it) left him with fatal political wounds.
While those missteps detract from his senatorial achievements, they don't diminish them. By and large, Sen. Dodd served Connecticut and the nation well.